Sunday, October 28, 2007

The cracked clay pot

On Tuesday night, my mom called and asked if my sister and I would like to come to their house for dinner. My sister and I live together in a little rent house, not too far from my parents. We try not to over-indulge in the blessings of “mom’s cooking” (or free meals, for that matter), but when the invitation is straight from mom herself, who can refuse? Especially when pot roast, baked potatoes, and cream corn are involved. So, we went over there just as the food was almost ready. We all chatted in the kitchen, my sister and I helping to set the table. When the food was ready, we gathered around the island to fix our plates, particularly the baked potato. Then one by one, we made our way to the table to sit. Most of the conversation revolved around our days. My sister’s stories from work, my stories from class or papers I’d graded. Bits of news and gossip we had heard throughout the day. As we finished eating, we took our plates to the sink, one by one, each returning to the table. The conversation continuing. Eventually, my mom started to put the food up, and my dad began to wash the dishes. My sister and I started cleaning the table and counters. Within minutes the kitchen was clean again, and my sister and I went home.

Seems like a relatively normal dinner setting. And for our family, it is perfectly normal and routine. However, (and mostly for the sake of this assignment), I started to think and reflect on the situation in a different way. I never noticed how we share responsibilities so much. There’s no “formality.” Even in terms of “seating,” we don’t have assigned seats. I have sat in every seat at our dining room table. I think most families can’t say that. No one has a particular seat they always sit in. We all just sort of sit down wherever and by whomever. Also, usually my mom does the cooking, but we all help in some way. In terms of cleaning, sometimes I do the dishes, sometimes my dad does them. My sister and my mom usually put the food away. But what’s most peculiar about it all is that there’s no “delegating” or “commanding.” We just did it all, in the most natural sort of way.

I know that my family is extremely close. We are unified together, and probably stronger than most families because of it. Usually when someone says their family is “close,” it implies an unhealthy, over-involvement on the parents’ part (usually the mom’s). But that’s not the implication for our family. My parents have always given us the room to fail. I think that’s the best way to say it. The problem with “close” families, usually, is that the parents’ won’t let their children fail—or make decisions for that matter. My parents taught us important life-principles…and then stepped back. My siblings and I have always been open in our communication with them, but not from their being pushy about it. I think it’s because we have the freedom to be honest with them about anything we’ve done (good or bad) and we’re able to make our own decisions, that their opinions and respect become more important. I know that I’ve been truly blessed to have a good family. Most people can’t say that. Certainly we’re not perfect. We each have our own values and annoyances. But I feel like we’ve aged well together. If I were to describe our family as a clay pot, we’re not perfectly formed and painted. We would more likely have cracks and holes. In some places, the paint would be faded or stripped altogether. But we’re beautiful in our own way because of the things we’ve been through and overcome. I believe we reflect the reality of life, which is hardly ever picture perfect.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What a glorious day....

Blog Prompt: Does "voice" that resonates compete with or enhance "academic voice"? How can we write successfully as "academics" and still have voice?

The quick answers are yes, and I don’t know. Yes, my real voice competes with my academic voice. How do I fix that? I’m not sure, but I do think it’s possible. I still remember the first time a professor really challenged me to find my voice. I’ve shared this story in class before. It was my senior year of college. I had spent my entire academic writing career (if high school and such can count as part of that “career”) writing with the “formula.” Seven to ten sentences for a paragraph. Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” No contractions. No fragments, not even for emphasis. When it came to sources, my words were buried between indirect and direct quotations. My professor looked at me and looked at my paper and said, “Where are you in all this?” I couldn’t answer him. I had no idea. It was a good paper, in terms of grammar and mechanics. Clear thesis, concise, but valid arguments with supporting statements. But it lacked passion. It lacked voice. Particularly my voice. I write all the time. It’s something I’ve loved doing for as long as I can remember. When I read my journals or prose writings, I can hear myself. Others who read my work have a clear portrait of who I am. How do I make that transfer?

When we read Harris’ chapter on Voice, I remember thinking that his voice was so distinct. Even before he mentioned the editing that had gone into that chapter (in terms of “real voice” being in quotes so often), I had noticed his voice among the voices he was citing. Elbow’s article on voice was similar in that way. Both are scholarly, academic articles with individual, non-academic voice. I mean, of course, they’re writing on voice, so one would expect their words to have personality. But how do they do it?

My theory? I think we have to learn the formulaic writing first. We learn to write in an academic voice that’s not our own. We read levels that are higher than our ability to produce them, and so we aspire to imitate that kind of writing. I think that’s pretty common. So my theory is this… When we master the formula, we learn how to break the rules. In theory, I will eventually become confident in my academic writing. When this confidence takes place, I will learn how to be more assertive about what I think. My opinion. As a result, my voice will start to dominate the other academic voices in my paper (i.e. my sources). I’ll feel less constrained to follow the academic rules of the text. I will know them and mostly abide by them, but now I will have power over them. I will have the power to freely express, freely choose my words, my form, my structure.

What a glorious day…

Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Teach or Not To Teach?

What is teaching? This almost seems like a loaded question! Teaching in itself implies so many different things. I guess at its basic definition it means to give or impart knowledge to someone. However, the act of teaching is synonymous with other crucial words like to coach, to train, to educate, to tutor, etc. Teaching is so much more than a lecture. It’s more than standing in front of the class and talking. And it’s more than just what you talk about. It makes me think of what Francis of Assisi said about the Gospel of Jesus: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” That’s how I feel about teaching. Teaching doesn’t always require “explaining.” Knowledge can be imparted through modeling. Knowledge can also be “learned” through experience.

I guess my definition of teaching sort of runs into my teaching philosophy as well. I don’t mean to belittle the importance of explaining information. Certainly, I plan to do some of that in my classroom. =) But, I fully believe in helping students teach themselves. I suppose that group work, peer editing, and group/class discussions will be an important part of my teaching philosophy. I believe in fostering students’ learning. Experience through failures and successes. Lessons learned by challenge, by critical thinking. I remember the first teacher I had who forced me to think. Really think. He didn’t give me the answers all the time. He showed me how to find the answers myself, and it was the best gift he could have given. That’s what I want to do for my students. I want to help them problem solve and think critically—those are the skills to “teach” because those are the skills they can use and transfer to any situation.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Questions to ponder...

What I love about this class is how much it gets me thinking, especially in those futuristic terms of “when I have my class…” But at the same time, this class has raised so many questions, some of which might not be answerable necessarily.

Writing has always been something I love doing—literally my whole life. I have been writing stories and journaling about my day for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me that even before I could actually write words or make coherent sentences, I used to write “stories” that I would read to them. I knew exactly what was in my head, and I knew exactly how I wanted to write it down. Ever since I started school, English has always been my favorite subject. I didn’t come to love reading or writing because of a teacher. I just always loved it. There have certainly been teachers that could have quenched that passion in me, but for the most part, I have never encountered an English class that I didn’t (eventually) get something out of. (I say eventually, because sometimes I didn’t appreciate the work I learned in a class until it was over.) How do I give/make/offer someone that same passion? More importantly, how do I teach a skill that I find mostly inherent? And it gets even more complicated considering 99% of the students I will someday stand before in Eng 1301 do not even want/care to write. How do I make it important to them? Is it possible to love English too much to be able to teach it?

I also wonder about other areas, which are more quantitative. I think even as a DI, I wonder what emphasis to put on “correctness.” I love grammar. And by love, I mean I literally love everything about it. I love the structure, the rules, the prescriptive, the descriptive. I love diagramming sentences and memorizing grammatical formulas. I love it all. But I also recognize that I am probably one of 10 people who love grammar so much. I think the most recent thing I’ve learned about “correctness,” in terms of what will probably become part of my teaching philosophy, is the importance of revision. My expectations for a first draft, second draft, third draft, or final draft will probably vary greatly. But when grammar does become more important, how do I teach it? Given the knowledge I now have—that students don’t learn grammar 2 or 4—what is the point of teaching it at all? How much does it matter? I still stand firm that it does matter. But how much? A little? A lot? I don’t know.

I think that I’ve raised enough questions for today. So, that’s all for now.